A Multi-Component Pheromone in the Urine of Dominant Male Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) Reduces Aggression in Rivals

J Chem Ecol. 2016 Feb;42(2):173-82. doi: 10.1007/s10886-016-0668-0. Epub 2016 Feb 4.


Males often use scent to communicate their dominance, and to mediate aggressive and breeding behaviors. In teleost fish, however, the chemical composition of male pheromones is poorly understood. Male Mozambique tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, use urine that signals social status and primes females to spawn. The urinary sex pheromone directed at females consists of 5β-pregnane-3α,17α,20β-triol 3-glucuronate and its 20α-epimer. The concentration of these is positively correlated with male social rank. This study tested whether dominant male urine reduces aggression in receiver males, and whether the pregnanetriol 3-glucuronates also reduce male-male aggression. Males were allowed to fight their mirror image when exposed to either: i) water control or a chemical stimulus; ii) dominant male urine (DMU); iii) C18-solid phase (C18-SPE) DMU eluate; iv) C18-SPE DMU eluate plus filtrate; v) the two pregnanetriol 3-glucuronates (P3Gs); or vi) P3Gs plus DMU filtrate. Control males mounted an increasingly aggressive fight against their image over time. However, DMU significantly reduced this aggressive response. The two urinary P3Gs did not replicate the effect of whole DMU. Neither did the C18-SPE DMU eluate, containing the P3Gs, alone, nor the C18-SPE DMU filtrate to which the two P3Gs were added. Only exposure to reconstituted DMU (C18-SPE eluate plus filtrate) restored the aggression-reducing effect of whole DMU. Olfactory activity was present in the eluate and the polar filtrate in electro-olfactogram studies. We conclude that P3Gs alone have no reducing effect on aggression and that the urinary signal driving off male competition is likely to be a multi-component pheromone, with components present in both the polar and non-polar urine fractions.

Keywords: Aggression; Chemical communication; Cichlid; Mirror; Social behavior; Urine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Sex Attractants / urine*
  • Tilapia / physiology*


  • Sex Attractants